The Nub

Baseball, the Banks, Hugo’s Successor, and the Missing Media

(Posted: 4/29/13 P.M; e-mail update 4/30)

Snap quiz: What do Baseball and the banks have in common? Answer: Both have the clout to avoid regulation. We know how “too big to fail” has spared major banks from Team Obama hitting them with game-changing penalties for cheating. Baseball has taken a purposeful pass on complaints about the exploitation of young players recruited in Latin America.

Two years after the meningitis death of a Washington Nationals prospect in the Dominican Republic, recipe a condition that went untreated early because of the lack of a medical professional at the Nats’ baseball academy, no rx little has changed. Both there and at most of 30 such facilities in what is the epicenter of Latin American baseball, young recruits are denied health insurance as well as the presence of on-site medical personnel.

The victimization of 16-year-olds, who, unlike here, don’t have to be high school graduates , is a story that gets no coverage in the Yanqui press boxes. A follow-up piece last month on the death of the Nats’ prospect by a Mother Jones reporter was the first substantive mention here of the tragedy over a two-year period. In the same way, our corporate media ignore political stories that suggest a setback for the capitalistic game in Latin America. Recently, for example, Team Obama called for an audit of election returns in Venezuela, echoing the demand of the right-wing candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Hugo Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro. The story received prominent play here, especially since Spain also supported the audit. What happened next went largely unreported…except by the UK Guardian’s Mark Weisbrot, who put the entire game into perspective:

“Washington’s efforts to de-legitimize the election mark a significant escalation of US efforts at regime change in Venezuela. Not since its involvement in the 2002 military coup has the US government done this much to promote open conflict in Venezuela… But the Obama team’s effort failed miserably. (Last) Wednesday, the government of Spain, Washington’s only significant ally supporting a ‘100% audit,’ reversed its position and recognized Maduro’s election. Then the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS)…backed off his prior alignment with the Obama administration and recognized the election result. It was not just the left governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and others that had quickly congratulated Maduro on his victory; Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti and other non-left governments had joined them. The Obama administration was completely isolated in the world.”

Meanwhile, Team Maduro has arrested an American filmmaker, charging him with fomenting anti-government tension. Team Obama says it knows nothing about the gringo free agent. But the record book shows repeated instances of U.S. meddling in countries like Guatemala, Chile, and Bolivia, as well as Venezuela, that weren’t playing ball with the Yanquis. Just as George H.W. Bush said (in the early 1990s) that we were intervening in the oil-rich Middle East to protect “our way of life,” the widening move there and in Latin America to isolate us seems the result of a perception that we are threatening their way of life.

Something to Bank On: Attorney General Eric Holder (before Senate Judiciary Committee): “(There are indications that) if you…bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these (banks) have become too large.”

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Resiliency: The 15-9 Yankees are winning – they made a resiliently played four-game sweep of Toronto – with discards, who in Joe Girardi’s words – have “found a way (to come) together.” The second and seventh innings of Sunday’s game offered a composite snapshot of the team’s has-been heroics. Brennan Boesch, a pre-season cut by the Tigers, hit a solo HR in the second. Travis Hafner, let go by the Indians, singled in the seventh, with the score 2-1 Blue Jays. LyleOverbay, released by Red Sox just before the season opened, hit a two-run homer to give the Yanks their winning 3-2 margin.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, with a three-game sweep of Houston, lifted their MLB-best record to 18-7. The Sox are two-and-a-half ahead of the Yankees, and nine-and-a-half over Toronto, which has lost 11 of 16 since Jose Reyes fractured his ankle.

Hype-r-ama: Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski on Yu Darvish: “He has (seven) pitches, he has the mentality, and he keeps getting more comfortable.” (quoted by ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers).

Joe Posnanski, NBC Sports on the Mets’ Matt Harvey: You watch him pitch now and you think ‘How does anyone ever hit him?’ Five starts this year, and he has not given up more than four hits in any of them. His pitches are eerily (Dwight)Gooden-like … his hard slider is very different from Gooden’s sloping curveball obviously, but Harvey (like Gooden) throws high fastballs, 95 to 100 mph, and to the batter the ball must look like it disappears into the atmosphere…because they swing and miss it about half the time.”

 Streakers: Red Sox +5, Giants – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues or requests for regular e-mail updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Wrecking Game, as Played on Both Fields

(Posted: 4/26, prescription PM, buy e-mail update 4/27)

“Fun to watch in a train-wreck sort of way.”  That’s a sports betting service’s pre-season comment on the Houston Astros; it added that the Astros, pharmacy for compassionate reasons, should be allowed to play the Miami Marlins – another train wreck – every game.  Both teams are rebuilding, with emphasis on developing prospects instead of paying veteran players; it’s a long-term, money-saving process reflected in 2013 payrolls – $39 million for the Marlins, $24 million for the Astros (29th and 30th on the MLB list).

For many observers, the “fun” extended to dire predictions of what awaited the Colorado Rockies, the Seattle Mariners, the Mets, Cubs and even the Red Sox.  Pre-season negativity is a popular game.  The Rockies and Red Sox, we know, have led their divisions throughout much of the month.  The Rox are showing signs of a slide, but it’s likely the Sox will remain secure in the AL East scramble until playoff-time.

Negativity is an everyday play in the edge-seeking political game.  Opposing teams love to bench-jockey each other’s rough brand of contact and brush-back strategies.

In a recent switch, Team GOP applauded as a member of the Dem opposition,  Max Baucus, turned on his own front office, warning that its medical game plan (Obamacare) was a potential – yes – “train-wreck.”

Press box observer Ezra Klein recorded the Baucus warning at a Senate hearing, then put the criticism into perspective:

BAUCUS: ‘When I am home small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect. They don’t know what affordability rules are; they don’t know when penalties may apply. They just don’t know…So that’s just from the small business perspective, let alone all the other issues that are going to be arising here…I just tell you, I just see a huge train wreck coming down.’

“Insofar as the Republican Party has a strategy on Obamacare (says Klein), it’s goes like this: The law needs to be implemented.  The GOP can try and keep the implementation from being done effectively, in part by refusing to authorize the needed funds. Then they can capitalize on the problems they create to weaken the law, or at least weaken Democrats up for reelection in 2014.  In other words, step one: Create problems for Obamacare. Step two: Blame Obamacare for the problems.”

Klein believes the strategy may work in states with intransigent Team GOP skippers, and, that, broadly, Obamacare will only be partially effective in 2014.  He anticipates clearer sailing once the country sees the benefits of the program: in particular, its provisions giving heath coverage to tens of millions now uninsured.

On the Aftermath in Boston: “What must th(ose) in the Middle East…think of a great city in total lockdown from an attack by primitive explosives when Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Yemenis experience far greater casualties and terror attacks several times a week? Including what they believe are terror attacks by U.S. drones… that have directly killed many thousands…”  – Ralph Nader, Common Dreams                                            

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Stat CityAs April winds down, only two teams have made the top five in all but one of hitting, pitching, fielding categories.  The Tigers are third in hitting and fielding, the Rangers second in pitching, fourth in fielding.   The Rockies lead in hitting, the Braves in pitching, the Diamondbacks in fielding. The Tigers, with Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, are the sole team placing three starters in the top 20 pitchers.  Only a single team made the top 10 in all three categories: the no-longer-surprising Red Sox.

Prosperity:  For more on why the Red Sox have prospered so far in the ultra-competitive AL East, the work of Clay Buchholz is a good place to start. On Thursday night, Buchholz became the MLB’s first five-game winner.  He’s 5-0, with a 1.19 ERA.  Sox GM Ben Cherington deserves overdue cheers for team’s turnaround after the front office overruled him on the managerial choice a year ago.  New Skipper John Farrell, who helped Buchholz in Florida, has been as impressive as Bobby Valentine was depressive.

Hear, Hear:  “In this age of technology, an age when baseball tracks the speed and break of pitches with military-style cutting edge tracking devices, but does nothing about whether a ball is fair or foul…there’s no reason why we can’t have quick remedies on obvious calls right now.” – SI’s Tom Verducci, on umpires’ dubious call of what would have been a key Jed Lowrie double in A’s-Red Sox game Wednesday night.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsabout blog issues, and requests for regular updates are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Competing in a ‘National Pressure Cooker’ Game

(Posted: 4/23/13)

On YES the other night, levitra Yankees color man Al Leiter remarked that the visiting Arizona D-backs were a “grinding, medical gritty team.”  He added that they reflected the no-nonsense approach of their skipper, Kirk Gibson.  Shots of Gibson in the dugout, exuding intensity, documented the description.  Most managers are intense – it goes with the job – but they’re able to conceal how they feel.  The occasional exception: when umpiring calls that could go either way hurt their team at crucial moments.  Gibson seldom jaws with umpires; he just smolders.

Polls say that close to 90 percent of the country is seething about the failure of the Senate to support even minimal reform of our weak gun laws.  Among the seethers, humorist Garrison Keillior, who turned serious over the weekend before a national broadcast audience in gun-tolerant Austin, Texas.  He said the Senate had “disgraced” itself in catering to what he called the “National Pressure Cooker Association”… “Not a great moment in the U.S. Senate,” he added.  “Hard to think of the last great moment.”

Whether the smoldering of people like Keillior turns to flame while the game is still fresh, or sputters in its aftermath, will play out over the next several months.  The gun control team feels the final out has not been recorded and a late win is still possible because of a D-backs-like spirit energizing its would-be rally.

The team’s Skipper Mark Gaze says anti-gun players have closed the “intensity gap,” spurred by the series of mass shootings that culminated in the Newtown massacre.  He adds that, after Newtown, the team’s roster was dramatically reinforced with a passionate array of prospects.  Finally, and most importantly, the team – funded by Mayors Against Illegal Guns – will have the money to neutralize the opposition’s electoral war chest.

The team will unveil its key weapon, Gaze says, in the Congressional campaign:  “Between now and 2014, you’re going to see Mayor Bloomberg (and others) who have not been focused on this issue providing support for people who did the right thing and letting the folks who did the wrong thing know someone’s watching.”

Reason for hope that the teams will be more evenly matched from now on, and that the game will indeed go to extra innings.

On Treatment of Boston Bombing Suspect:  Leave aside the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted of nothing and is thus entitled to a presumption of innocence. The reason to care what happens to him is because how he is treated creates precedent for what the US government is empowered to do, including to US citizens on US soil. When you cheer for the erosion of his rights, you’re cheering for the erosion of your own.” – Glenn Greenwald, UK Guardian                                                 

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Weekend-Plus Update:  The Brewers, riding an eight-game win streak, have moved to a game within first in the NL Central.  Oakland lost momentum in the AL West, getting swept by TampaBay and losing to the Red Sox last night.  The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp ended his slump, going six-for-13 in series with the Orioles.  He picked up 52 BA points.

The Talk of Late-Wintry Denver is the job Rockies manager Walt Weiss has done with his once-low-rated team.  The Rox, in case you haven’t noticed, are 13-5, a game ahead of the Giants atop of the NL West.

Rejuvenation:  There may be other GMs who deserve similar cheers, but the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, and his scouts, have outdone themselves in the signings of un-coveted players thought to be over the hill.  Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Kevin Youklis have all performed beyond expectations.  Hafner, an injury-prone DH whom the Indians let go, has been a particular surprise: BA .319, five HRs in 47 ABs.  Wells, relegated to the bench by the Angels despite a hefty contract, has returned to productive life with the Yankees: .299, five HRs.  The versatile Youklis is performing at his Red Sox-level, playing third and first, hitting .279…which means there’s no urgent need for A-Rod to return.  Add LyleOverbay to the list, and Cashman and co. have four reasons to take a bow.

Did You Know That…As the fourth week of the season unfolds, only one of six divisions shows four of five teams above .500 – the NL Central, where the surge by Milwaukee has left the Reds, Pirates, Cardinals and Brewers bunched with winning records.  The Cubs are the outliers.

Shufflin’ Starters:  The Aaron Laffey experiment, 7.20 ERA in two games, has ended for the Mets – he’s been demoted – with replacement Shaun Marcum coming off the DL. If fans are hoping Jeremy Hefner, 7.07, follows Laffey to Las   Vegas, they’ll likely be disappointed.  Zack Wheeler has been walking, roughly, one batter every other inning at Vegas, meaning the prize prospect is not ready for prime time. 

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Oh, Those Misleading Stats in Both Ballparks

(Posted: 4/20/13)

It could well have been a baseball statistician who said stats “are like bikinis – more interesting for what they conceal than reveal.” The numbers on the Braves, canada the team with the sport’s best record, buy confirm the thesis: Atlanta (13-3) is a poor 21st of 30 in team fielding and 20th in hitting. Not even superior pitching, which the Braves have (they’re at the top of that list), should offset those on-field and at-bat liabilities, but that’s what’s happened. Timely team play can neutralize persuasive numbers.

Pressbox people tracking the political game have a more complicated task in deciding which stats on which to focus. Rather than pitching-hitting-fielding numbers, they must dig into fan-and player-opinion stats that can differ widely. Yet a consensus picture can emerge based on the media’s misplaced emphasis. Case in point: while polling numbers put fan opinion at a generally moderate 50-50 left-right split, the stats on the performances of congressional league players show the country to be extremely divided.

The figures – based on a University of Texas-based survey – are these: comparing Congressional stats from the tumultuous 1967-69 racial era to those of 2011-13, the House went from a 24.2 to a 54.8 extreme-partisan rate; in the Senate, the jump was from 27.2 to 55 percent. The survey scoreboard showed Team GOP “winning” the polarization games by 3-1 in both ballparks.

Official scorer Ezra Klein, of Bloomberg.com, says the numbers“ explode many of the easy assumptions of contemporary political punditry. For one thing, the (comparative) political unity of yesteryear largely relied on a combination of extremist views and poorly functioning parties. Congress wasn’t very polarized partly because the Democratic Party was populated by conservative Southern racists who (crossed the aisle) to block civil-rights and other liberal legislation.”

Today, Team GOP has enough hit-hard-to-right players to keep the legislative game in deadlock. Furthermore, as in this week’s futile effort to strengthen gun control, it can often recruit Dem switch-hitters to defy the statistical (almost 90 percent) will of the fans. All the while, the media tend to blame the spectators rather than opposition team play for the bitter, indecisive outcomes.

Lob from Left Field: “Whatever rage you’re feeling toward the perpetrator(s) of th(e) Boston attack, that’s the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for (the) victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs.” – Glenn Greenwald, UK Guardian

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Seems Like Old Times in the AL East, with the Red Sox and Yankees one-two at the top of the division. John Farrell seems to have stabilized the streaking Sox, who are second to Atlanta in pitching and to the Tigers in fielding. The Yankees, minus much of their core, are doing nicely, anyway – winning eight of their last 10, buoyed by solid pitching from the oft-shaky Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Speaking of shaky, Eduardo Nunez will be playing under extreme pressure as the likely Derek Jeter-fill-in until mid-July.

On Doing Without Derek: “The Yankees say they won’t do anything drastic, but there are no alternatives…There isn’t a soul in their farm system that can replace Jeter. They must live with a shortstop tandem of Nunez and Jayson Nix. ‘We’re going to stay as we are,’ GM Brian Cashman says. ‘I’m happy with Nixy and Nuney, but I’d be happier with Derek.’ He was talking about the old Derek Jeter. The one that we’ll never see again.” – Bob Nightingale, USA Today.

What Else We Know: In the NL West, the 12-4 Rockies – also streaking – are doing it with hitting, not mirrors; they’ve replaced the Tigers as the top team in batting, with a collective BA of .289 and 26 HRs. Oakland, 12-5, in the AL West, is persuading the world it was no fluke a season ago.

Early Encomium: “The best young pitcher in baseball” is what SI’s Cliff Corcoran calls Matt Harvey after the Mets’ sophomore starter outdueled the Nats’ Stephen Strasburg last night. Premature? We’ll see.

Travel Sidelight: Going into Thursday afternoon’s game at Milwaukee – the finale of seven on the road – the Giants were 3-3. Brewers telecasters Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder said SF players were hopeful of going 4-3, and earning themselves a “happy flight.” The pair credited the term to Angel Pagan. “You always want to win the last game of a series on the road,” they quoted Pagan, “so you can enjoy the trip ahead.” The Giants’ flight to Denver (site of their next series) figured to be of the unhappy-hours variety: a 7-2 SF loss gave Milwaukee a three-game sweep.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues, if pertinent, will be addressed by the skipper, reachable at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Would-Be Game-Changers: ‘Forbidden Fruit, Loose ‘Third Rail’

(Posted: 4/16/13)

Remember at the start of spring training the saga of the three unwanted free agents, discount tadalafil Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Kyle Lohse? Around the same time, Theo Epstein was saying that free agents had become baseball’s “forbidden fruit.” We now are only too aware that, despite the draft-pick and cash penalties entailed, all three were signed to generous contracts of five years, for Hamilton, with the Angels; four for Bourn, with the Indians, and three for Lohse, with the Brewers. The alluring fruit, like the Biblical apple, was too tempting to resist.

For political front-office people, the “third rail”, tied to Social Security, is the equivalent of baseball’s free-agent warning sign. Leave that earned-entitlement alone, is the message both righties and lefties in Washington have taken to heart…up to now. Skipper Obama has signaled he’s ready to skim the third rail, cutting back a bit on the safety-net benefits in return for a Team GOP agreement on tax hikes.

His reasoning coincides with the widely touted baseball trend – still in its infancy – of investing in prospects – politicos call them ‘millennials’ – over experienced players. The National Journal’s crack stat man Ron Brownstein describes what’s happening:

“By (defend)ing entitlements over discretionary spending, the (Obama team has been) favoring the predominantly white senior population, which cast about three-fifths of its votes for Republicans in last year’s elections, over the diverse millennial generation, which voted about three-fifths Democratic… ‘Obama is ahead of his party on (changing the approach)’…says (a knowledgable scout). The president’s budget could threaten congressional Democrats in 2014…But Obama’s positioning could help Democrats deepen their grip on millennials, who will approach one-third of eligible voters by 2016.”

In the same ballpark, Brownstein notes a generally overlooked trade-off: the Skipper’s health care plan cuts back on Medicare spending so as to help cover the medical needs of uninsured working-age people. An intra-squad liberal-centrist battle looms for the Dem team.

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Who Are These Guys? Two reasons to take the 11-1 Braves seriously: Journeyman hurler Paul Maholm is 3-0, and atop the MLB pitching stats, having given up zero runs in 20 innings. And unheralded third baseman Chris Johnson, a throw-in when Atlanta traded Martin Prado to the D-backs’ for Justin Upton, is batting .405, and sixth among hitters in both leagues. Boston, now 8-4, and first in its division, can boast long-heralded (up and down) starter Clay Buchholz. Like Maholm, Buchholz is 3-0, and has yielded only a single run in 22 innings.

They’re Baaack! A month from now, Roy Halladay and Josh Beckett will turn 36 and 33, respectively. Together, they have a total of 29 major league seasons and 332 victories behind them. Their best years were also considered behind them…until Sunday. The pair combined to pitch 16-and-a-third innings for their teams, the Phillies and Dodgers, giving up a run each. Halladay won his 200th as the Phils edged the Marlins, 2-1, while Beckett struck out nine on the way to losing, 1-0, to the Diamondbacks. Washed up? Not quite yet.

Evaluation: John Smoltz (on TBS) on why the AL East should remain a five-team competition for the entire season. “No team has a lights-out rotation, but all staffs are pretty solid. The only thing that could upset a close race – a long losing streak by one of the teams.”

Exaggeration, Maybe: Mets color man Ron Darling on the team’s young eye-opener Matt Harvey: “I’d give my World Series ring and my entire career to have his future.”

Noted from a Distance: While the Mets were weathered out Sunday in Minnesota, two of their former players, Endy Chavez and JasonBay were at the top of Seattle’s batting order as the Mariners defeated the visiting Rangers, 4-2. Ex-Yankee Raul Ibanez homered for the M’s, who trail Oakland and Texas in the AL West.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Saturday-Morning Stretch: the Sport and Margaret Thatcher

(Posted: 4/9/13)

Margaret Thatcher and baseball?  What can possibly be the connection?  How about this:  The strong hit-to-right stance that she and onetime baseball broadcaster Ronald (Dutch) Reagan shared.  In the eighties, best ailment the pair changed the way the political game was played in Britain and the U.S.

How they did it has a link to baseball.  We thought of it when we read part of a scorecard on Skipper Margaret’s performance by biographer Hugh Young.  “By far her greatest virtue, here ” Young said, click “is how little she cared if people liked her.”  Reagan wanted to be cheered, and he succeeded in becoming a popular president.  Except for that difference, Young’s take on the Thatcher years applies to Reagan’s tenure, as well:

What happened at the hands of this woman’s indifference to sentiment and good sense in the early 1980s brought unnecessary calamity to the lives of several million people who lost their jobs…More insidiously, it fathered a mood of tolerated harshness. Materialistic individualism was blessed as a virtue, the driver of national success. Everything was justified as long as it made money – and this, too, is still with us…The sense of community (has) evaporated.” – UK Guardian

The two skippers were a lethal double-play combo, cutting down labor movements in each of their bailiwicks, to the applause of owners, if not fans.  Big Labor here never recovered from Reagan’s breaking of the flight controller’s strike early in his first term.  Putting unions on the defensive, Skipper Ron helped widen the income gap between working people and corporate bosses.  In the process, the nation’s “poor” disappeared.  They remain invisible today, politicians choosing instead to target the “middle class” with their pitches.

We see a vivid reflection on what’s happened at ballparks : Tickets to a game cost almost as much as seats at the opera. You see few young people at so-called “premium” games; the family-tradition aspect of the sport is fading, along with it a sense of community.

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It’s Early, But… Team stats going into the second weekend of the season confirm the dominance the Detroit Tigers.  Jim Leyland’s club leads both leagues in hitting (with a .313 BA) and fielding (zero errors in nine games).  Atlanta has the best pitching stats (1.89 ERA).  Something of a surprise: the team whose rankings show it to have the greatest balance is the KC Royals – fifth in pitching and hitting, and seventh in fielding.  The Yankees, fourth in fielding, finished with a flourish last night, a triple play to close out the Orioles in a 5-2 game.  Adam Jones made a three-run error with two out in the eighth to hand the Yanks the decisive margin.

Go Figure:  With R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson heading the rotation, Toronto was considered by many to be the class of the AL East going into the season.  But the Blue Jays are 29th in team pitching with a 5.78 ERA.  Dickey has yielded 15 hits and 12 runs in 10.2 innings at home, Johnson 16 hits and 10 runs in 7.2 innings, home and away.  Orioles color man Mike Bordick asked Tim Wakefield if playing in the Jays’ domed stadium could be having a negative effect on Dickey’s knuckler.  Wakefield said pitching under stable conditions indoors should help the knuckler:  “It’s mother nature outdoors that can cause problems.”

 Word from the Sponsor:  D-backs GM Kevin Towers (on MLB-TV), on why his team expects to compete with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West: “We’ve got deep pitching, a roster full of people who don’t give up when they fall behind, and talented reserves ready in the high minors.” Baseball America’s Organizational Talent Rankings support Towers’ optimism: Arizona is eighth on the list of 30, the Dodgers 19th, the Giants 28th.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressedby the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

The ‘Honor America’ Game: Play it Differently or Not at All

(Posted: 4/9/13)

“Stay right there, discount ampoule ” said Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay, generic help in the seventh inning the other night, “while we honor America.” We clicked away from the YES channel, our resentment at the patriotic ritual surely shared by many fans at the Stadium and at other ballparks. Why should this be? There is much to honor our country for: its diversity, energy, natural beauty, etc. We agree on that.

The problem exists because many of us turn to baseball for diversion – escape from the realities of our daily, non-sporting lives. We’ll tolerate (barely) having to endure the pre-game imposition of the National Anthem; the “God Bless America” interlude in the seventh seems like piling on, patriotic excess. Worse, it smacks of the insecurity often associated with self-congratulation: think of the triumphal “USA, USA, USA!” when an American team in winning over one it should beat easily.

If a seventh-inning celebration of national pride is here to stay – and Yankees president Randy Levine says it is, at the Stadium, at least – we believe there’s a more fitting way to express it. Americans are noted abroad for their work-ethic, and optimism about making things better. Cheering that ambition to build a more perfect nation – a ballpark on the hill – would capture a tradition for which we all could be proud. Lyrics from a homefront World War II song come to mind: “We have a heckuva job to do, but you can bet that we’ll see it through.” Something like that. Get the idea, Randy, and, especially you, Bud Selig? Make it happen…or eliminate the seventh-inning intrusion altogether.

Reprise: What is our most pressing need for positive change? Paris-based birddog William Pfaff identifies a challenge as familiar as it is urgent: “The question now raised on both right and left in the United States is whether the Republic itself can survive its suffocation by political money that blocks any legislative or even executive-branch action not bought and pre-paid by self-serving interests on one side or the other. Republics cannot live without a modicum of disinterested leadership.” – International Herald Tribune

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These first-week stats tell a couple of reasons the top-loaded Dodgers are for real: Red Sox di$cards Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are a combined 17-for-40 (.425) and Clayton Kershaw and Josh Greinke have jointly yielded zero runs in 22.1 innings (Kershaw registering 16 strikeouts in as many frames). Boston, meanwhile, is not doing badly – atop the AL East with a 5-2 record.

Encouragement: If it is true that one-run victories are major team morale boosters, the Reds, Twins and White Sox got off to the most encouraging starts, each winning three of six games by a run in the first week. The Angels had to be disheartened on leaving Cincinnati – having lost three by a single run to the Reds in an inauspicious start to their season. The Reds have kept winning in week 2, routing the Cardinals; the Twins lost a two-run game to KC, while the White Sox were idle.

Discouragement: Roy Halladay failed to make the promised “fix” of his pitching problems against the Mets last night, giving up seven runs in four innings. With their onetime ace struggling (to say the least) Phillie fans must acknowledge that the team’s long-shot playoff hopes are in jeopardy.

Like It Is: Mets fans, with no playoff hopes, have every reason to remain patient with GM Sandy Alderson; they know that, in any change, Jeff Wilpon could re-emerge as noisily involved in player selection. Nevertheless, Alderson has left himself open for second-guessing – above all, for the slow pace of his rebuilding program. His decisions to trade away Angel Pagan and give up on Mike Pelfrey clearly should have been reconsidered. And his tolerance of the “what outfield?” situation is inexcusable. Under the circumstances, a new, negative attendance record may be the discreetly quiet commentary fans make on Alderson’s leadership.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Why Neither Game Will Ever Be Quite the Same

(Posted: 4/6/13)

What are we to make of the spate of long-term baseball signings – Buster Posey (nine years, buy here $167 million), Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 mil) Adam Wainright (five years, $97.5 mil), and Felix Martinez (seven years, $175 mil), Elvis Andrus (eight years, $120 mil)  being the most recent?  The trend toward locking up super-stars – close to 25 contracts of five years or more have been signed over the past 12 months – has accelerated because of additional TV money teams will be receiving, thanks to terms of a new contract with broadcasters.

The trend tells us two things: (1) the free agent market will no longer be the most interesting part of the hot stove season, trades involving lesser players taking precedence. (2) Money, and how it is invested rather than just spent, will be more important than ever now, given the narrowing of disparities in team finances.  Elite unsigned players being snared by big-market teams will be rare. This change in the sport, although brewing for awhile, has snuck up on us.

A not-so-sudden change in the other pastime has to do with money as well.  Epitomized in the curve-balling repertoire of NY state Skipper Andrew Cuomo, the tricky deliveries have nudged progressivism into a more friendly-to-the-1 percent stance.  While going to bat for socially liberal gay marriage and stronger gun-control laws, on the left, Cuomo has also pushed through a cap on property taxes that fund public schools, and sent a “millionaire’s tax” to the showers.  His switch-hitting has earned him cash from the extreme-right Koch brothers and cheers from the National Review and Wall Street Journal.

Still, Cuomo’s pragmatic stance makes political sense as he (a possible candidate) and the Dem team look forward to the 2016 presidential election.  Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman explains why:

“(The reality is) the power and influence that Americans have allowed money to assume in our politics.  The massive investment by corporations and wealthy individuals since the mid-1960s has successfully remade Congress, many statehouses (and) much of our mainstream media…With Democratic politicians increasingly dependent on the largesse of…multimillionaires, those who sought (to do without such money…learned) how difficult it was to win elections without them.”

We see how switch-hitting has paid off in baseball for Carlos Beltran, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Victor Martinez, etc.  Maybe, for good or bad, it’s the future of the old-timer’s game of liberalism.  Turns out Charlie Schumer, famously friendly to Wall Street (and absent in the clutch when a tough lefty hitter is needed), has been ahead of the game all these years!

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Confirmation:  Near the end of week 1, it is foolish to play the pundit, but…we saw enough to feel that (a) the Nationals and Braves are secure as the class of NL East; (b) the Giants will give the Dodgers a run for their money in the NL West; (c) the Yankees desperately need to play close to .500 before Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are all back, if they are to avoid falling out of the AL East race.  Also: the Mariners’ deal that brought Mike Morse from the Nationals has given Seattle a miraculous offensive boost: four HRs in the first four games for starters. The Orioles’

Chris Davis matched Morse with HRs, but went him better with a .600 BA, and 16 RBIs in four games.

A Confident Doc on His Sickness: “I’m going to fix it, I’m going to fix it, and the results will be better.” – Roy Halladay, after yielding five earned runs, two HRs and three walks to the Braves in three-and-a-third innings. (quoted in Philadelphia Daily News)

Praise from Afar: “When I watch (Cincinnati’s) Brandon Phillips, what I think of is a guy who just knows he can play, knows he’s the best guy out there and isn’t afraid to show it.” – Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen (to Andy Martino of NY Daily News)

Praise from Close By:  Larry Bowa on Team USA’s pitching coach Greg Maddux, with whom he worked in the World Baseball Classic:  “I’ve never met anybody who knows as much about pitching as Greg Maddux.  I’d pay him a million dollars to work with pitchers on a team of mine.” – (on MLB-TV)

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Commentsto dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Scouting Update: Captain Derek and Skipper Barack

(Posted: 4/2/13)

Our annual scouting update on the two key players featured in the first Nub, tadalafil sickness almost exactly six years ago:  Derek Jeter, buy then 32, had just completed a .343, 97 RBI, 14 HR, 34 SB season.  Barack Obama, then a rookie with slowly emerging tools, was running third behind Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the Dem presidential primary race. Here was our take as the season opened in April 2007:

If Barack Obama regains his early campaign momentum, one reason is likely to be the Derek Jeter factor.  That Barack and Jeter share similar multi-cultural backgrounds will surely seep into the broader voter consciousness as the baseball season unfolds.  The racial comparison will likely lead many even casual observers of the sport to connect Jeter’s attributes with those of Obama.  Jeter has earned the admiration of fans throughout the country and world for his skills and conduct.  Obama can benefit from a transfer of that admiration if he handles himself in the political field with the same unruffled assurance that Jeter exhibits when he steps to the plate or corrals a difficult ground ball.    

There are no hard stats to support the theory of Skipper Obama gaining from a positive comparison with Captain Jeter.  What they have shared over the past six years has been success in their respective fields, and, now, setbacks.  Jeter has been hurt by advancing years – he’ll be 39 in June – making him susceptible to injury.  A slow-to-heal damaged ankle is keeping him out of the Yankee lineup for a week or two or more.. We know the sources of  Obama’s biggest wound: it’s war – the war in Afghanistan, and the “war” on terror.

Obama inherited them both, but he’s the one at bat now. When fans think of the hits we’ve taken in Afghanistan – 20,000 killed and wounded, at a cost of $640 billion – they blame the Skipper. . The “war” on terror is a greater nightmare because it has made the U.S. a security state in which civil liberties at home – as well as human rights abroad – have been benched; worse, it’s a war against opponents scattered across the globe, instead of a nation – a war that threatens to drag on deep into the Skipper’s retirement years.

Obama is safe as skipper until 2016; Jeter’s game may be long over by then.  His three-year $51 million contract ends this fall.  There could be an option year in 2014 for the then-almost 40-year-old shortstop; a lot will depend on his ability to bounce back from bad stretches, as he has in the past.

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Roundup:  Opening Day was Pitchers Day in the MLB – Clayton Kershaw (four hits in nine innings), Stephen Strasburg (three in seven), Felix Hernandez (three in seven-and two-thirds) and Chris Sale (seven in seven and two-thirds) all pitching shutouts, for the Dodgers, Nationals, Mariners and White Sox.  And let’s not forget Jered Weaver (two in six) and Johnny Cueto (three in seven) in the first half of the 13-inning classic played by Angels and Reds, which LA won, 3-1.  The Angels’ big hitters Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton went a collective one-for-14.  Oh, yes – Kershaw broke a scoreless tie against the Giants with his first career home run in the eighth inning.  Matt Cain, by the way, allowed only four hits in six innings for SF.

Sold on Sale:  Just a few days before the openers, MLB-TV staged a discussion of what’s ahead in the 2013 season.  Out of the talk came one surprise:  on the question of which pitcher from among the 30 teams he would choose to build his team around, Dan Plesac ignored the likes of Justin Verlander, David Price, and Kershaw to choose Chris Sale.  Plesac said Sale was primed to have a breakout year for the White Sox.  He’s off to a good start, as is Plesac as a prognosticator.

Youthful Maturity:  If the first impression he gave turns out to be valid, Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be with the Red Sox for a long time.  In his first at-bat, he worked out a key walk from C.C. Sabathia after falling behind 0-and 2.  David Cone, doing color on YES, said more than once that Bradley looked “mature” at the plate as he took two of C.C.’s sliders that just missed the strike zone.  The 22-year-old also stole a potential RBI hit from Robinson Cano and drove in a run of his own in Boston’s 8-2 victory over the Yankees.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)